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A Notebook with camp poems belonging to former prisoner Bożena Janina Zdunek has enriched the Archives of the Memorial


The original notebook with manuscripts of poems about the camp, which belonged to a former Auschwitz and Ravensbrück camp prisoner Bożena Janina Zdunek (known in the camp as Musiewicz), was donated to the Museum by her son, Professor Adam Zdunek.

The notebook of Bożena Janina Zdunek. Photo: Łukasz Lipiński
The notebook of...
The notebook was donated to the Auschwitz Memorial Archive. Photo: Łukasz Lipiński
The notebook was...
The notebook of Bożena Janina Zdunek. Photo: Łukasz Lipiński
The notebook of...
The notebook of Bożena Janina Zdunek. Photo: Łukasz Lipiński
The notebook of...

'The Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum is the largest museum institution and has the resources to ensure that such unique documents are treated appropriately. It is of particular importance to me that the notebook returns to the place of tribute to the victims,' said Professor Zdunek.

It is known from the post-war testimony of Bożena Janina Zdunek that the origins of this extraordinary collection of camp poetry most likely date back to the autumn of 1943. 'It was about then that the female prisoners in their limited spare time recited by heart the poems they had heard and remembered, which were created in the camp. It is not entirely clear how Ms Zdunek came into possession of the notebook, which, as the inscriptions on its cover indicate, was to serve as a register of camp numbers of deceased female prisoners. Perhaps she managed to obtain this notebook thanks to the ingenuity and courage of the female prisoners involved in the camp resistance movement,' said Dr. Wojciech Płosa, head of the Museum Archives.

Bożena Janina Zdunek had two notebooks of this type in the camp; however, one of them was stolen from her along with a bag in which she kept her prisoner possessions.

The notebook, in broad lines on 32 pages, contains texts of 17 camp poems, written in different writing styles. They include, among others, works by Krystyna Żywulska (actually Sonia Landau): "Marsz" (March), "Apel" (Roll-call), "List do Matki" (Letter to the mother), "Taniec" (Dance), "Mamo, bądź, zdrowa" (Mom, stay healrhy). These are poems that constitute the canon of camp poetry from KL Auschwitz.

'The notebook donated by Professor Adam Zdunek is an extraordinary and precious document. The very history of the creation of this collection of poems draws attention, and it must also be noted that it is a testimony to the great willpower to live and attachment to culture, which were characteristic of female prisoners. Amid the horrible daily realities of the Birkenau camp, they found the strength and time to collect what was so ephemeral, lyrics of camp poems created by female prisoners as snapshots of immense suffering and longing for freedom. Such actions undoubtedly required great courage and determination,' added Wojciech Płosa.

He emphasized that the notebook will be a priceless supplement to the collection of camp poems stored in our Archive: 'There are only very few examples of poems written in the camp. The majority of the collection is poetry texts remembered by former female and male prisoners, which were reproduced from memory after the war.'

Bożena Janina Zdunek (née Musiewicz) was born 29 June 1918 in the village of Siwki in Wołyń. She attended the famous Krzemieniec Secondary School, and in the 1930s, after moving to Warsaw with her parents; she continued her education at the Queen Jadwiga Middle School. During the occupation, she became involved in the resistance movement.

In 1943 she was arrested and deported to KL Auschwitz on 22 June 1943. She remained in the camp until the end of August 1944, when she was transferred to KL Ravensbrück. At the end of April 1945, following the action of the Swedish Red Cross, she found herself among the group of female prisoners who were released and taken to Sweden. In 1948 she married Jerzy Januariusz Zdunek, a Warsaw insurgent and former prisoner of the Stutthof camp.

The director of the Polish Institute in Stockholm, Paweł Ruszkiewicz, recalled the moment he first saw the notebook of Bożena Janina Zdunek: 'I was invited to Mr Zdunek's house. It is a moment I will remember for the rest of my life when the documents were pulled out of the closet and among them, the notebook. We immediately agreed that it should be presented to the world on a broader scale because we owe this above all to Mr Zdunek's mother, the female prisoners, Mr Zdunek and his children.'

In cooperation with the Swedish Red Cross, the Institute created an exhibition that tells the story of the camp notebook.

'Bearing in mind the condition of the notebook, we knew from the very beginning that it required conservation. The transfer of the notebook to the Museum, which has supported with content and media from the very beginning of the project, is indeed a culmination of the entire undertaking and an impulse for further activities. We intend to publish a reprint of the notebook with a translation into Swedish,' added Paweł Ruszkiewicz.

'For us, every document and personal memento is essential, because they allow us not only to learn about the history of Auschwitz as a camp institution but also to move to a personal level and show the individual fates of people. My sincere thanks to the professor for his trust and for donating this unique notebook. It is indeed an extraordinary volume of poetry, which is a testimony to the fact that for those imprisoned in Auschwitz, poems were a way to combat humiliation and dehumanization,' said Auschwitz Museum Director Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński.

'At the same time, I continue to appeal for the donation of all documents and memorabilia connected with the history and victims of Auschwitz. Here, at the Memorial, they will be protected, preserved, studied and exhibited. It is also worth mentioning that documents from family collections are not available for researchers and are therefore not used in creating canons of historical narration,' Cywiński added.

Bożena Janina Zdunek was a member of the Association of Polish Veterans in Sweden and financially supported several Polish and Catholic institutions in Sweden and other countries. She was also very active in the sphere of education. She regularly met with Swedish youth to talk about concentration camps and the tragedy of World War II. She died on 2 June 2015 in Karlskrona.